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SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 08, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
Choral and Vocal
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
BROWNE, PAREMSKI HEAD STELLAR CAST AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 09, 2020
The Feb. 9 performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony offered a healthy dose of 21st century music firmly bound to the 19th. Matt Browne’s first symphony, “The Course of Empire”—based on a series of five paintings by Thomas Cole, who founded the Hudson River School of American painting in the 1820s—emp...
FRENCH ORCHESTRAL MUSIC A FIRST FOR THE SO CO PHILHARMONIC
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 02, 2020
Over many years the Sonoma County Philharmonic has played little French music, but perhaps this oversight was corrected Feb. 2 in a splendid all-Gallic program Feb. 1 and 2 in the Jackson Theater. Classical Sonoma reviewed the Sunday afternoon concert. In his eighth conducting season with the So C...
POLISH MUSICAL WORLDS GLOW BRIGHT IN NFM WROCLAW WEILL PERFORMANCE
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, February 01, 2020
The NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic, with conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, gave a concert of enormous energy and emotional impact on Feb.1 to a small audience in Weill Hall. This orchestra has been a major cultural force in Poland since 1949, playing under many renowned conductors and has been committed to pr...
EXTRAVAGANT ARIAS IN NEXT GENERATION TENORS GALA VALLEJO CONCERT
by Mark Kratz
Saturday, February 01, 2020
“Beautiful, strange, and unnatural…” said orchestra conductor Thomas Conlin when speaking of the tenor voice. One of the coveted voice types of the opera world, the tenor voice is known for it’s piercing tones and soaring, unnatural high notes. The iconic image of the Pagliacci clown (in the famed...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, May 11, 2013
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor; Olga Kern, piano

Pianist Olga Kern

A PERFECT 10 FOR THE TENTH

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Santa Rosa Symphony capped off its first year in the resplendent Green Music Center with an impassioned performance of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony, widely regarded as his masterpiece in the genre. Every section of the orchestra, from the lowest bass to the most stratospheric piccolo, played to the max, producing a lush, dense sound that filled the GMC's nearly full Weill Hall almost to bursting point.

The Shostakovich was a highlight of the season, matching or exceeding memorable performances earlier in the year of Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique," Mahler's Symphony No. 1, and Brahms' Symphony No. 3. In one sense, it was better than all of those, because--despite being 60 years old--it was probably new to most of the audience and made a strong case for the glories of modern repertoire.

Conductor Bruno Ferrandis chose an all-Russian program to build up to the Shostakovich. The concert opened with the all-too-brief prelude to "Khovanshchina," by Mussorgsky. Subtitled "Dawn on the Moscow River," this intensely lyrical work opens with a hushed figure in the violas that moves through the other strings and migrates to the clarinet, oboe and English horn. The playing was both ethereal and soothing, in keeping with the music's program. Sadly, it was over all too soon, ending up as more of a song than a full orchestral piece.

The full-blown orchestra arrived with the next number, Rachmaninoff's oft-performed Piano Concerto No. 2, this time with Russian pianist Olga Kern, winner of the 2001 Van Cliburn Competition. She entered from stage right in a floor-length red dress with a semi-open back, but her subsequent performance never quite matched the implicit fire of her bodily decor. She sat stiffly on the piano bench, her shoulders slightly stooped, her eyes fixated on the keyboard. In a work of intense Romanticism, she seemed to be more of an observer than a participant.

Kern's playing in the first movement lacked both projection and fluidity. She was often buried by the orchestra, and her phrases were disconnected. Instead of flowing into each other, they seemed isolated--fragments instead of a complete entity. The second movement was better, but again the piano didn't ring out, and the playing lacked fire. It was only in the third, with its unflaggingly popular melody, that Kern finally came to life, articulating each recurrence of the theme with authority and technical dazzle.

The relative disappointment of the Rachmaninoff was soon forgotten in the magnificent opening bars of the Shostakovich. Using the simplest of means--the first three notes of the minor scale--Shostakovich crafts a riveting and suspenseful tale, as the three-note figure begins in the cellos and moves throughout the orchestra, pausing briefly for a gorgeous clarinet solo, ably played here by Roy Zajac. The inexorable forward motion continues, leading to an arresting fortissimo section followed by a long decrescendo.

The playing throughout the movement was exemplary, nowhere more so than in a luscious post-fortissimo clarinet duet between Zajac and his colleague Mark Wardlaw. The duet led into an obsessive waltz highlighted by crisp unanimity from the strings, and then into a haunting conclusion for piccolo and drums.

If the first movement displayed the Symphony's expressive capabilities, the second showed off their ability to play at top speed with an unflagging beat. Ferrandis launched them into a relentless perpetual motion at top volume, and they never let up. The effect was both dazzling and intense.

Speed gave way to Shostakovich's elegantly simple phrases in the third movement, marked Allegretto. Sounding much like a string quartet, the fiddles and their kin acted as a perfect foil for beguiling solos from French hornist Alex Camphouse and English hornist Bennie Cottone. Despite the relatively slow tempo, the forward motion was compelling, thanks to Ferrandis's steady beat.

Both Shostakovich and the Symphony saved the best for last, with a thoroughly convincing reading of the final movement. The pace was again furious, and the pulse evident at all times. Ferrandis exerted great dynamic control, easing into pianissimos with as much authority as fortissimos. The many solos from woodwinds and brass were all well played, making the work a virtual concerto for orchestra. When it came, the ending was sheer drama. It was a great way to end the season, and it bodes well for the season to come.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]